Hundreds of people carrying mattresses and holding signs denouncing sexual violence marched through Columbia University’s campus in New York City, demanding action on the “national crisis of sexual violence” in college. The demonstration was just one of 130 held across the country on Wednesday as part of the Carry That Weight day of action, organizers said.
“Come on, PrezBo, be courageous! Rape culture is contagious!” Zoe Ridolfi-Starr chanted into a bullhorn, using a nickname for Columbia’s president, Lee C. Bollinger. Behind Ridolfi-Starr, a crowd of women and men held mattresses with signatures, messages of support and calls to action scrawled across them. A mattress propped against Columbia’s Alma Mater statue bore the demand: “No Red Tape.”
According to the Department of Justice, nearly one in five women experience attempted or completed sexual assault during their college years.
“Mama, mama can’t you see? / What Columbia has done to me / Rape culture is all around / There’s no safety to be found,” protesters sang. But the crowd grew quiet when Ridolfi-Starr said she wanted to share her story for the first time.
“When I was a freshman here at Columbia, I was sexually assaulted by two men at a Columbia fraternity house. I met them at a bar, we went to a party, and they got me so drunk I could barely stand. Then they sexually assaulted me,” Ridolfi-Starr said.
“I carried those experiences alone, in silence, for a year. And it was crushing. I thought maybe tonight, they were doing it to someone else. And they probably were. I needed somebody to tell me, ‘What happened to you was not right, and it was not your fault.’ I needed somebody to ask me what they could do to help me feel safe, but no one did.”
Junior Rosie Hoffman said she received zero support from the university after a man drugged her macaroni and cheese and sexually assaulted her during her first week of college.
“I told my dean and my supervisor that I was assaulted. Instead of compassion, I was met with contempt and skepticism,” Hoffman said. "They didn’t believe me, and refused to acknowledge it — much less take responsibility for it. I wasn’t told how to report it, or that there was an office to report it to.”
Beyond campus walls, fewer than 5 percent of college women who experienced attempted or completed rapes report the crimes to police, according to a 2000 Department of Justice report.